The word "nincompoop" has certainly earned its ranking as one of the most enjoyable words to pronounce in the English language, regardless of the fact that no one quite knows how or when it was coined. Essentially, a word describes a fool, a stupid person whose incompetence or naïveté is quite apparent. It is often used to describe people of a much lower social ranking, although some may describe an unpopular or incompetent leader as an "utter nincompoop." For others, the word could be used interchangeably with other pejoratives such as "nimrod," "ninny" or "numb skull." In military circles, an incompetent non-commissioned officer may be called a "noncompoop".
The origin of this word is a matter of speculation, although there are a few interesting theories. One of the earliest literary uses of "nincompoop" occurred in a 1676 play called The Plain Dealer, written by British playwright William Wycherley. One character scolds another, calling him a "senseless, impertinent, quibbling, drivelling, feeble, paralytic, impotent, fumbling, frigid nincompoop." Even earlier references contain the variant spellings "nicompoop" and "nickumpoop."
Some have speculated that the word is a nonsense word that combines elements of other words implying ignorance or stupidity. The word "ninny," for example, was a corruption of "innocent," meaning a naïve or gullible person. In Dutch, the word poop was often used to describe a fool. It is conceivable that the originator of "nincompoop" was seeking to combine several unsophisticated words into one nonsensical but descriptive word.
Others believe the word was a corruption of the Latin phrase non compos mentis, meaning "not of sound mind." This theory has not been universally embraced, however, since the original spellings of "nincompoop" do not suggest such a relationship. Another similar theory suggests that it was inspired by a French phrase, ne comprend pas, meaning "he does not understand." It is possible that a British native familiar with the French language playfully created a new guttural insult, complete with a coarse Dutch ending.